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Fourth Down (cont’d.): A look at Villanova Football’s special teams

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The final installment in our eight-part series to preview the 2017 football season.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Lafayette Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

We will be dissecting and previewing Villanova's football roster, breaking it down by position as part of our "Four Downs" series. Each week, we will highlight two positions.

Schedule:

First Down: Quarterbacks (Aug. 8) | Running backs (Aug. 10)
Second Down: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends (Aug. 15) | Offensive Linemen (Aug. 17)
Third Down: Defensive Linemen (Aug. 22) | Linebackers (Aug. 24)
Fourth Down: Defensive backs (Aug. 29) | Special Teams (Aug. 31)

This is the final installment of our preview series. We'll be taking a look at special teams before going into the Sept. 2 season opener against Lehigh.


Returnees:

#94 John Hinchen (5-11, 190) Sr., P
#95 Steve Weyler (5-10, 175) Sr., K
#93 Gerard Smith (5-11, 190) Jr., K
#98 Drew Kresge (5-10, 205) So., K
#48 Collin Linden (6-1, 170) Sr., LS

Departures:

Elia Palmese (5-7, 180), LS

Newcomers:

#51 Joey D'Antonio (5-8, 145) Fr., LS
#59 Kevin Crabtree (6-1, 225) Fr., LS/OL

It's felt like such a long time since Villanova had some stability in the kicking game. 2014 graduate Mark Hamilton was 8-of-9 on field goals and a near-perfect 43-for-44 on extra point attempts in his final season and that felt somewhat taken for granted, given how the next couple of seasons after that went. The first year after Hamilton left, the Wildcats tried out two different kickers. They went for a combined 5-of-11 on field goals and 61-for-70 on extra points. The kicking woes even cost the Wildcats a couple of games--Syracuse and Richmond, most notably.

In 2015-16, followed up with another two-kicker approach, using Steve Weyler for the first few games then Gerard Smith. Together, they were 3-of-10 on field goals, but an improved 24-of-27 on extra point attempts.

Finally, last season, it seemed like the 'Cats stabilized themselves in the kicking game. Although it wasn't perfect, it was a certainly a step in the right direction, as their kicking struggles no longer felt so apparent.

Since relieving Weyler of his placekicking duties, Smith has shown improvement and competency at his job. His first full season as placekicker went pretty well, especially in comparison to the last couple of years. Smith made 5-of-7 field goal attempts and converted on 36-of-40 point-after tries. He even made a pair of 40-yarders against Maine, getting the ball through the uprights from 42 and 43 yards out.

Going into his junior year, he should continue to improve and still be a dependable kicker. He has made tremendous strides from his freshman season and his growing confidence in himself is showing.

As for Weyler, he's found other ways to contribute. The senior from nearby Media, Pa. is now the team's kickoff specialist. While Smith has taken over at placekicker, Weyler's strong leg has kept him on the field. He will be handling kickoff duties for the third straight year now.

As for the other parts of special teams, there is plenty of continuity. Collin Linden has been the team's long snapper since coming to Villanova. Now entering his senior year, he will take up his duties for one last run.

Then there's John Hinchen, who's become one of the top punters in the CAA. He's served as the Wildcats' punter in every game for the last three seasons and is entering his final year. Last season, Hinchen had his best year yet, averaging 41.5 yards per punt, 10 punts for 50 yards or longer, and 20 downed within the 20-yard line--all while earning third team All-CAA honors along the way.

Villanova welcomes a pair of long snappers, Joey D'Antonio and Kevin Crabtree--who also plays offensive line.

WIth no new kickers or punters arriving, it's likely that Mark Ferrante will replenish those spots after this season.